Product managers usually begin their career by doing something else. Interview a dozen candidates to tend to your tech product and you’ll meet former coders, UX designers and marketers. You won’t meet a single writer, and that’s a glaring omission because I think writers make killer product managers. Let me count the ways…
Reason 1: Writers Invented Empathy
If empathy is a product manager’s #1 core trait, and if empathy means putting yourself into the shoes of another, then writers have Play-Doh feet, which they can mold into sneakers, heels and Crocs. Writers have charted the inner world of thousands of protagonists. They can put your soul into 500 words after one conversation. When writers get bored, they assemble a person from scratch and drop that sucker into a tragedy just to see what happens. Sounds like persona writing and scenario testing to me. Hire a writer and you’ll have a crisp, fully fleshed-out understanding of your target audience (and team).
Reason 2: Writers Read
According to the landmark tome, PeopleWare, technologists don’t read very much, unless you count StackOverflow, Reddit and Quora. But give your writer six months and they’ll inhale every book on product management, watch every MindTheProduct video, interview every thought leader and wear out a Moleskine journal with novel connections. Is it because your writer has much to learn and more to prove? Maybe, but reading and researching are part of their DNA. Hire a writer and you’ll always stay on top of trends.
Reason 3: Writers are Grandmasters of Feedback
Writers have an insane ritual where they gather in a circle and make themselves vulnerable to the cold judgement of others. They recite stories about alcoholic grandfathers and lost love. Once finished they take a deep breath and brace themselves for criticism. When it’s the writer’s turn to give feedback they balance the positive with the constructive. Tech professionals acknowledge the importance of feedback, but writers pay blood tribute. Hire a writer and you’re hiring a skilled diplomat who doesn’t want anything sugar coated.
Reason 4: Writers Make Requirements Readable
Developers cry when reading user stories. That’s because user stories read as boring as they sound. If your product manager is a writer, your developers will still cry, but tears of joy. Your user stories will sing with precise language and uplifting imagery. Hire a writer and your team might enjoy reading requirements.
Reason 5: Writers Know How to Pivot and Kill
Writers aren’t afraid to pivot or kill ideas. A writer will shelve six months of work because a book isn’t working. They’ll delete their favourite chapter because a trusted editor told them it sucks. They’ll scrub characters and change themes on a dime. They won’t flinch. Product development and product management is as much about change and death than it is about life. Hire a writer and they’ll do the dirty work for you.
Reason 6: Writers Add an X-Factor
Even the best-designed, best-coded apps will limp with bad writing. Because above-average writing is rare in technology, it’s an inexpensive source of competitive advantage. Your writer will add an impeccable voice to a dull Sign Up page. They’ll craft a clever name for your product that’s rooted in Greek mythology. They’ll deflect customer rage by turning your 404 Page into a punchline. Hire a writer and your product will have that little something extra.
Reason 7: Writers Iterate
Writers know that true writing is rewriting. They’ll see every version of your tech project as another draft. They’ll recruit trusted editors and keep pushing the team to improve. Writers won’t dilly-dally; they understand the importance of shipping and will hit deadline. Hire a writer and they’ll have absorbed cutting-edge product lessons back in English.
Reason 8: Writers Are Battle-Hardened
Writers know how to fight for a clear vision through dull, monotonous, no-end-in-sight repetition. A novel needs as much willpower as a tech project. The difference is that writers don’t get a launch party when they cross the finish line; they’re rewarded with apathy or a black eye. They take the punch, toss their manuscript into a hole and start on something else. Hire a writer and you’re hiring grit.
Reason 9: Writers Are a Great Value
For the price of an entry-level tech worker, you can hire a writer with an Ivy League MFA or a seasoned journalist who’s conquered deadlines and bludgeoned flaky freelancers. If you think that the tech industry is one big echo chamber, writers will raise your product to a unique pitch. Hire a writer and you’ll create a more interesting culture with money to spare.
Reason 10: Writers Are Creative
When we talk about movie directors or showrunners, we talk a lot about creativity. But for some reason when we talk about product managers, all we talk about are tools and frameworks. That’s a shame because a creative leader is the best way to inspire and push a creative team. And few work harder than writers at creativity. They attend workshops, practice stream-of-consciousness exercises and care more about ideas than face time or rank. Hire a writer and your product will surprise your fans – and the competition.
Should You Really Hire A Writer?
Maybe or maybe not, who knows. The point of this article isn’t that writers are some magical, untapped panacea. The point is that we shouldn’t be too narrow when thinking about the “ideal” background for a product manager. Because product management is more art than science and relies on so many disparate disciplines, anyone can bring something unique and powerful to the table. A salesperson’s charisma and people skills are just as effective as a coder’s technical understanding or a UX designer’s eye for wireframes. So next time you want to hire an entry-level product manager, don’t discard a resume just because there’s no computer science degree or MBA attached. Give that English grad a chance!